Resident awaits return to home after 5 years
Published: Friday, September 10, 2010
Updated: Friday, September 10, 2010 11:09
NEW ORLEANS — Evera Solomon, 61, has lived in a 240-square-foot trailer parked in the driveway of her home for the past five years.
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed 90,000 acres of property along the Gulf Coast, the Federal Emergency Management agency provided victims with temporary trailers, but no one thought that meant anything close to five years.
Solomon waits patiently for the day she can move back into her home of 20 years in the Upper 9th Ward of New Orleans.
"I keep praying," she said. "I pray for everyone."
Today, with the help of the United Methodist Disaster Response, Solomon is closer to moving into her home, but it took a series of bad storms to finally make it there.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Solomon was used to the threats of hurricane season. Little did anyone know a combination of storm surges from Hurricane Katrina and inadequate levees would destroy New Orleans.
"We thought it was a bad storm," Solomon said. "Didn't know it was going to explode and ruin everything."
The Sunday morning Hurricane Katrina hit, Solomon's grandchildren had already left their homes. Solomon went to work at the Veterans Hospital on Perdido Street in New Orleans.
Midday, Solomon helped load patients to Alexandria, La., and then on be moved to Houston's Veterans Affairs Hospital.
Solomon followed and started immediately working after the storm. She spent some time in Houston but later transferred to Virginia's Veteran Affairs' branch and lived with her sister.
Solomon said she was saving money to return to New Orleans and claim her damaged property. The day finally presented itself a few months after the storm when a co-worker said they would be returning.
"I knew I had to come back," Solomon said.
She came home to find her home had stood in 12 feet of water for several weeks.
She had no choice but to gut the house. A local church helped.
"I was numb," she said. Through it all, Solomon said she "couldn't cry over spilled milk."
Even though Solomon could not cry, she started to see a change in her health.
She started to have trouble breathing, and her blood pressure started to rise.
"I never took (blood) pressure medicine, but I started to," Solomon said. "I kept praying."
The little money she had, Solomon shared with the homeless people visible on every street in her neighborhood.
Solomon gave some of them cash to cut her lawn, so they could have some kind of living.
"They're just people who need help," she said.
Solomon claimed her insurance on the home, and FEMA provided funds as well to help rebuild.
Solomon said her first contractor started off professionally
Whenever she looked at her home, it seemed as if progress had been made.
The first payment she made was about $20,000.
He then started to ask for more money, but the house barely showed any improvements.
Then one day, he disappeared.
Solomon went to the grocery store to pick up a few things, but when she returned, her contractor had packed up all his tools, stolen her supplies and taken her front door.
"He set me up," Solomon said. "I was ripped off."
Solomon said the contractor stole about $50,000 to $68,0000.
"People are supposed to help somebody, not play them," she said.
Solomon reported him and continued to file complaints with the city.
"People come in one way and rip you off in another way," Solomon said.
She saved the little money she had left and prayed for a miracle.
In the winter, her trailer got cramped and cold. Solomon bought an electric heater to keep warm and an air purifier to breathe easier.
With no response from the city, Solomon had no idea if she would ever return to her home.
Then one day at work, she learned of an organization called Southeast Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Response that was rebuilding homes in her neighborhood.
Joe Burke, project manager for Southeast Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Response, heard about Solomon's case and took it on even though the group already was working on 75 to 80 houses.
The group is a faith-based organization that repairs and rebuilds Louisiana homes damaged by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. Their mission is aiding in the suffering of those who were uninsured or underinsured.
Volunteers from all 50 states and 35 countries have come to help rebuild homes in Louisiana.
At one time, the organization had 85,000 volunteers at six locations but now has only two.
Burke's branch alone has completed major repairs to 1,500 homes and rebuilt about 3,000 homes in St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
Burke said the faith-based organization most often gets the last and lost people who need the most assistance.
A case manager reviews applications and gathers FEMA information, bank statements and information from any volunteer association that has donated money.
"We look at all over their financial information to see if they can afford their own recovery," Burke said.
Before United Methodist Disaster Response took Solomon's case, there were case managers from five organizations working on it.
"We got her house in January of 2008," Burke said. "We had to redo the previous contractors' work."
Burke, who has lived in New Orleans since 1987, resides in the area known as Gentilly.
"Gentilly neighborhood was really busy, and most of the houses were occupied," he said. "But the storm drove everyone out."
Burke has been a part of the United Methodist Church since 1995, but he started to help run the disaster response effort in September 2005.